by las Indias
In las Indias, cooking is felt to be a service and a creative personal expression. It is the everyday way of showing the others how you care for them. Around one o’clock someone, the first who are tired of work or have already finished the tasks they wanted to do during the morning, volunteers for going shopping and preparing lunch. We prepare the table with a tablecloth and we start every lunch with a little ceremonial toast. Lunch is meaningful. We spend more than two hours enjoying dishes and wine -usually from different parts of Spain- and conversation. And then we come back to the office.
But we are six, we often have visitors and guests, and we don’t have a big kitchen. That means we prepare small dishes and delicatessen as aperitifs and, if the «fresh ingredient» of the day is a light one, we will have to prepare a second dish that is scalable and powerful, specially during winter. For example, we cannot cook more than a big fish in the oven, but yesterday we bought a beautiful fresh hake of one and a half kilogram, so while Mayra prepared it for the oven we prepared our famous tuna sauce in the pressure cooker and I blanched in some tuna sirloins. Meantime the rest of us set the table and prepared some small aperitifs (homemade cheese carried from parent’s home, partridge pate made by a friend, spiced black Aragon olives…). You can imagine it. We use to say «without celebration nothing remains», and we try to make every day a memorable one.
And then imagine someone appears who says they are a vegan.
**The vegan guest**
When our friend GPaul was on his way to visit us the first time, he received creepy stoic advice from Danish communards: «You are vegan, be careful, you will suffer in Spain». There is some truth in it. In popular bars and «food houses», it is almost impossible to eat vegan. Spanish traditional food is full of fish and the «iberian pig» is more holy for the most of the people than any particular invocation of Virgin Mary.
Paradoxically traditional Mediterranean cooking is full of dishes that are objectively vegan. The problem is locals don’t recognize them. When they receive a vegan at home, they look for processed vegan food (tofu burgers, etc.) they would never eat, or specific «vegan recipes» on the Internet. These recipes come from English and German books of the seventies and the eighties. Let’s face it: few people come to Europe looking for traditional English or German cuisine and it happens for a reason.
We also know many vegans have a kind of martyrdom vocation which allows them to eat Mediterranean Summer food during the whole year: toasted bread with olive oil and vegan pates, humus, gazpacho, ajoblanco (a gazpacho of almonds, without tomatoes), boiled vegetables lightly fried in a wok… but if you go to the street with this in your stomach during Madrid’s winter, you will probably freeze before the bus arrives.
On the other hand, as you probably noticed, we are not vegan, but lunch is about sharing. The arrival of vegan visitors means to cook vegan convincingly enough not only for the newcomer but also for your fish eaters, pork lovers, and cheese fanatics too.
So, let’s look for help in the indiano traditional cookbook and let’s prepare some Mediterranean cuisine winter menus… vegan friendly.
**First Menu: On ancient revolutions**
The Revolt of the Comuneros (=communards) was the first Iberian bottom to top democratic movement. It set the cities of Castille against the coronation of Emperor Charles Habsbourgh (Charles V in Germany). It put an assembly controlled urban democracy up against the Imperial regime that was coming with the new dynasty. It finished in 1521 with a big battle -a massacre- in the town of Villalar, where thousands of revolutionary free peasants and bourgeoisie, badly armed, found the Imperial professional troops managed by the main nobles of the kingdom.
Villalar passed into popular History thanks to a famous «romance» of the battle preserved as folklore until today. But also because of its lentils. They still cook them with a simple recipe we improved with a honey touch.
– Wine: Caballero de Castilla, Ribera del Duero
***First dish: Leeks with ajoaceite***
We wrap the leeks in aluminum foil one by one. We put them in the oven at 180ºC for some minutes. We open it and we put them on the plate. We serve it with the company of a little bowl of «ajoaceite» sauce.
Ajoaceite means «garlic and oil». It is an strong and bitter vegan alternative to «mahonesa» (a sauce from Mahó in Menorca, whose name in English became «mayonnaise»). To prepare it, we put in the blender a clove of garlic without its heart, a bit of salt and half the juice of a lemon. Usually we make it with extra virgin olive oil, but sunflower oil produces a lighter result. While mixing them we slowly add oil until it curdles.
***Second dish: Communard lentils***
The night before, we put the lentils (around 1/2 kg) in a big bowl with water. Before cooking we will drain them.
We will use a pressure cooker. We stir fry three onions, cut in julienne strips, with olive oil. When they become transparent we add generous powdered nutmeg, salt and two glasses of oloroso or if we haven’t got oloroso, white wine.
Then we add the lentils and we cover them with 3/4 of lemonade (made just with water, honey and lemon juice) and 1/4 of white wine. We close the pressure cooker and leave it around 30 minutes (depending on the pressure cooker, the time changes). Finally, once opened, before serving, we will mix the result with the juice of half a lemon.
**Second menu: On abundance in poverty**
Chickpeas have been the life jacket of popular classes since the Roman times. Chickpeas were one of the first domesticated plants 8000 years ago in Anatolia and they never abandoned the Mediterranean sea. There are even Latin treaties on its, supposed, medical and moral properties. And the Spanish classic literature (Cervantes, Quevedo, etc.) is full of references to the «olla», the medieval stew of chickpeas that is still the basic winter dish in many Spanish regions. Nonetheless chickpeas were complemented since Renaissance times with potatoes, the only American treasure European working classes of the Empire could enjoy for centuries.
Our second menu will have two dishes: a very traditional one, «Poor person style potatoes» and Indiano chickpeas, a dish that is also rooted in tradition but with our own style.
– Wine: Peñamonte, Toro
***First dish: «Patatas a lo pobre»***
We cut five big potatoes in slices and we salt them, three onions in julienne, two peppers in strips and four garlic cloves in small cubes.
We stir fry in a big pan with very low fire, the garlic cloves in something around a half to a quarter of a glass of olive oil. When they are lightly toasted we give life to the fire and we add the peppers. When they lose their rigid look and the skin starts to separate from the pepper’s flesh, we add the onions until they become transparent.
Then lowering the fire, we add a little spoonful of hot paprika and the potatoes, mixing all with care. When potatoes take the paprika color (red), we add a glass of white wine (better if «oloroso» sherry) and put a frying pan top on, letting the vapor to go out through the valve.
It will take a around 25 minutes. We stir it carefully with a wooden spoon every 5 or 10 minutes and we serve the result with a topping of fresh parsley cut in small squares.
***Second dish: Indiano chickpeas***
We let chickpeas (around 1/2 kg) rest in a bowl full of water during the night and before cooking we drain them.
We fry with olive oil three onions cut in juliennes. When they are transparent we add two little coffee spoons of sweet and sour Paprika (usually «de la Vera», the best Spanish denomination, from «la Vera» county, in Extremadura) and immediately (there’s nothing worse than burnt paprika) 5 small juicy tomatoes. When the tomatoes are cooked, we will add three or four big spoons of soy sauce (depending on how salty you like them), two glasses of white wine (an «oloroso» sherry would be perfect) and we will blend it all. Then we cover with grape juice and water (50/50) and we close the pressure cooker, cooking them for about 45/50 minutes.
**Third menu: On the first workers strike**
The first workers strike in Spain is documented in the XVII century. In those days, tuna became more expensive and the ship owners decided not to allow the fishermen to take a piece of their captures for making their stew. In its place they would receive a salmon. When the fishermen tried to make their traditional tuna stew with salmon… it did not work, the flesh was too soft for stew and the result was clearly unsatisfying. So they stopped working until they were allowed to use their own fished fresh tuna. It was a big strike, the first remembered by Iberian History.
Indianos prepare a tuna stew of our own. But it is not bad at all for vegans… if we don’t use tuna but, in example, hearts of chives and small carrots. It is powerful, so it really doesn’t need a first dish, but just a little more of (vegan) aperitifs, like home made asparagus pate, artichoke pate or olive -green/black- pate. We will serve it with a wine called «Privilegio» (=privilege) just in order to give this very cheap menu an ironic taste 😀
– Wine: Privilegio, Ribera del Guadiana
***Heart of chives and small carrots stew***
We stir fry two big peppers and three onions in olive oil in the way we did in the recipes before, this time using sweet and sour paprika «de la vera» and 6 tomatoes before blending it all.
Then we add 1/2 l grape juice and 1/2 l of white wine and 3 big potatoes cut in little cubes. We add salt, a big spoon of honey, three spoons of soy sauce and we cook the mix in the pressure cooker for 20 minutes. We blend the result, we add the carrots and the hearts of chives, and again close the cooker and cook for another 10 or 15 minutes.
**A good meal**
The important and most valuable part of preparing a meal together is priceless and cannot be found in the market. In this post, we added History and popular culture to learn how to transform Nature in the most productive way, with the less consumption of resources. We shared our little ceremony: every day a different one of us dedicates the work of the day to the meaningful things he/she considers the day have to be dedicated to, with a toast. And we enjoy our senses, being with the other indianos and our guests, and conversation: body, feelings and reasoning. And of course, we can share it with with our guests, vegans or not, too… even during a cold winter day.
Every menu here cost less than US$1.25 per person wine included. Communal living is really more productive than an individualistic one in a very accountable way.
In Spain, lunch is the more important meal. If people had to lunch out -as the majority do in Madrid- their quality of life will worsen -as they cannot share it with their families- and if they have to have lunch in a food house or a restaurant they will never pay less than 7 times what it costs to us…
For people thinking about making an urban community, making good cooking of any kind (vegan or not) can be really affordable… We hope for American readers maybe this will make cooking itself and eating legumes a little bit more attractive.
We think that spreading cooking-culture is a big front in the fight against social decomposition. An NGO we met in Gijón (North of Spain) discovered that their program with the most social impact (and they do all sort of things) was when they created an industrial kitchen where they cook every day with migrant families. The original goal was to avoid the health consequences in kids from processed food and poor nutrition (many of them come from the Dominican Republic and Colombia where apparently low income workers and disclassed people have adopted the American industrial food culture). But their revolutionary achievement was to encourage the families to have lunch or dinner together. Just reimplementing this small institution not only changed their health levels, but also improved the achievements of the kids in school, reduced drug use and alcoholism, etc. Since these migrants come from Hispanic countries, not only the language but the deep culture is the same, so the meals in every house opened them to neighbors, interchanging dishes, having coffee together… so, this NGO started with cooking but ended creating community feelings with more depth and extent than any program designed for confronting xenophobia and racism in troubled neighborhoods.
Here we have food markets in every neighborhood more like an American «farmer market» than to a supermarket, but they are always open and they are a lot cheaper than supermarkets (supermarkets are adapting now, distributing local producers and promoting them). So the majority of people eat what you call «real food» and have a discipline of family lunch or dinner that could turn out to even be oppressive if your couple’s parents or yours insist in extending it to the weekend every weekend (family lunches are really more like an unending assembly with friends visiting, table games, football matches, etc.). Paradoxically this institution of «dining with parents and brothers/sisters and visiting friends» has made the difference during the crisis in Spain, Portugal and Greece. In Spain, better productivity of real food cooked at home and extended family model allowed close to two million families, with kids and no wages nor income because of unemployment, to eat everyday thanks to the, usually small, pension of the grandparents.
The good side of all this is that the pride of community and family, as the basic institutions of society, grew. And with it an egalitarian community like ours changed a lot in social perception from something «odd», distrustable, associated with cults in the catholic imagination; to a healthy way of living and working happier and a model/lab for learning from and playing with. The bad side is that traditional culture pride also fed nationalisms of all kinds because people associate traditional culture with welfare and surviving and identify cultural challenges as attacks. The sad result is by first time in our memory Spanish left, specially the new left, is nationalist… and that is sad and dangerous.